ST. LOUIS (AP) — The relentless toll of the pandemic has worsened the ongoing nursing shortage at St. Louis area hospitals.
Over the past decade, the nation’s nursing shortage has been growing, but now with the number of nurses leaving the profession during the pandemic, it’s turning into a crisis, nurses and hospital administrators say.
Turnover became heavy last fall and winter during the surge of COVID-19 patients. Now after so many people refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the number of hospitalizations has surged again with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Mercy is losing about 160 nurses a month out of the 8,500 working in the Chesterfield-based system’s hospitals and clinics across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, said Betty Jo Rocchio, Mercy’s chief nursing officer. Filling the openings with new hires or travelers is becoming increasingly difficult, especially in rural areas.
“It’s pretty serious,” Rocchio said. “It’s impacting the amount of patients in this country that we can take care of.”
After a stressful summer, some nurses have stopped giving in to requests to work extra hours. Some are switching to less stressful careers. Some have retired early. Others have left hospital jobs to become temporary traveling nurses, who are in massive demand that comes with salaries four or five times higher than what nurses would typically make.
Jeremy Fotheringham, president of eight SSM Health St. Louis-area hospitals, said the shortage was “severe,” with about 80 out of 5,500 system nurses leaving each month. He and other hospital officials are in constant communication about how to make sure they are able to care for everyone.
“I’ve been in health care almost 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything close to the challenges that we are facing now for all the people that work in our hospitals and clinics,” Fotheringham said.